Review: Korean Air ICN First Class Lounge & Intra-Asia First Class (ICN-NRT)

by Stephen

Seoul Incheon’s New Terminal 2

Seoul Incheon airport’s brand new Terminal 2 officially opened on January 18, 2018 (timed to coincide with the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games), and I was excited to be able to experience the new terminal so soon after it opened. (Keep in mind this trip happened over a year ago.)

Inspired by other leading terminals around the world, ICN’s Terminal 2 was designed to both be visually breathtaking and on the leading edge of technology. In addition to various energy-saving architectural features and a Kids Zone with a number of virtual reality attractions, there are supposedly robots scattered throughout the terminal to assist lost travelers.

The terminal building is, in a word, stunning. With a high glass domed ceiling and plentiful natural light coming in from the floor-to-ceiling glass windows, the terminal feels incredibly airy and open.

With plenty of indoor greenery, the terminal instantly conjures images of Singapore’s Changi airport. Despite the building’s size, its cleanliness and the overall calmness that can seemingly only be found in Asian airports give off a great sense of peace and serenity.

In addition to having plenty of duty free shopping and dining (there’s even a Shake Shack), there were various traditional Korean cultural and musical performances that were going on.

We enjoyed our time strolling through the terminal on the way to our gate, but did find it to be quite a trek. Indeed, the terminal is very large and as far as I know there are no trains or people movers within the terminal. It also didn’t help that the departures level of the terminal does not have any moving walkways. While we didn’t have any issues with timing, this potentially could pose problems for those on tight connections.

New Korean Air First Class Lounge ICN 

The former Korean Air first class lounge at ICN was long regarded as being mediocre at best. With plenty of space but not much in the way of food, drink, or any other special features, the lounge offered just a place to stop and grab a metal luggage tag.

However with the opening of Korean Air’s new base at the new T2 at ICN, the carrier completely redesigned a fresh new lounge; I was very excited to see how the new lounge compared to the old.

In addition to occupying a new space, the lounge was designed to reduce crowding (though admittedly I don’t recall this ever being much of a problem in the past). There are designed lounges for each premium cabin as well as a separate lounge for Korean Air Million Miler elites.

The lounge is located near Gate 248 and there are sporadic signs throughout the terminal that direct one to the lounge. The lounge itself is located one level above the terminal, and there is signage and an escalator leading up to the lounge.

At the top of the escalators is a strangely large empty area and the reception desk. The lounge is split into two sections, with the Million Miler section to one side and the first class lounge to the other.

Directly behind the reception desk is a long hallway with a magazine stand and storage lockers. I was immediately struck by how “clean” the design of the lounge was. The floor-to-ceiling marble and bright lighting lend a very attractive yet understated feel.

Given that the first class lounge is exclusively for first class passengers, the lounge itself is fairly small, with seating for only about thirty people. The main space of the lounge is comprised of a main seating area and a dining area, separated by a glass wall.
The seating area contains dozens of lounge chairs arranged into various configurations for both solo travelers and groups. Privacy is not an issue in this lounge, as there were plenty of high privacy shields around all of the seating areas. There are, additionally, plenty of power outlets, which each seat having access to power.
While the lounge is attractive, it unfortunately does not have any exterior-facing windows. The only windows overlook the inside of the terminal.

After we settled in to a group of four chairs, I made a beeline for the food. The old Korean Air first class lounge in terminal 1 had a pretty dismal food selection, and while the new lounge offers a slightly better selection, I found it to be subpar relative to other international first class lounges.
The buffet selections consisted of several Asian hot dishes, sandwiches and assorted pastries, and some fruit.

The alcohol selection, like in the old lounge, left much to be desired.

In addition to the buffet options, there is a separate menu of a la carte dishes that were listed on a paper menu. Of note, there was no table service when we were in the lounge; however Ben from One Mile at a Time visited the lounge later in the year and noted that at that time, there was a lounge host who took food orders.

Given the fairly little time we had in the lounge, I opted for the buffet rather than waiting for the a la carte items. I found the food to be pretty tasty.

There is a single shower room in the lounge, available on a first-come, first-served basis. There was no wait when I requested to use it. The shower room itself is quite large and well-lit, and the shower water pressure and temperature were perfect.

The lounge also offers a “private room” with opaque, frosted glass and a massage chair. While I didn’t get a chance to try it out, one of our friends promptly sat down in the chair and feel asleep for about forty-five minutes, which I would say is a pretty strong endorsement.

We spent the rest of our time in the lounge relaxing, and found it to be quite suitable for that purpose, given that the lounge was pretty silent and we spotted only maybe five to six other people throughout our stay.

On our way out, we stopped by the reception desk to collect our metal luggage tags, which the lounge still offers. It was a long walk to our gate, but given the surroundings we found it to be relaxing. We arrived at our gate just a few minutes before boarding was announced.

Korean Air Intra-Asia First Class Flight 

Korean Air KE 705 ICN-NRT
February 5, 2018
Boeing 777-300ER
Dep: 7:02 PM KST
Arr: 9:13 PM JST
Duration: 2 hours, 11 minutes

Seat: 2A

We boarded from the first class jetbridge and were warmly greeted by the crew at the door. Korean Air has eight of its Kosmo Suites on its Boeing 777-300ER, more or less the same product as on the A380. While these particular seats were a bit more dated, with older IFE remotes and more worn-down finishes, this is a pretty strong product to consistently offer on a two-and-a-half hour flight.

Finally succumbing to the effects of our long and not-yet-over travel day, I declined the pre-departure service and fell asleep quickly after settling in to my seat . The boarding process was uneventful and I woke up as we pushed back from the gate, with the four of us being the only passengers in first class.

The flight attendants jumped into action to begin the meal service as soon as the seat belt sign was turned off. I never cease to be impressed with meal service on short, intra-Asia and intra-Gulf flights where a full meal is served. This is of course in stark contrast to North American and European carriers, where you may be lucky to get a bag of chips thrown at you even on three to four hour flights.

Dinner began with some sort of fish appetizer that was fairly unremarkable.

The main course consisted of octopus in noodles. As with the appetizer, it was fine but not anything to write home about.

I spent the remainder of the short flight sleeping and woke up as the captain was making his announcement about our descent.

We touched down at Tokyo Narita airport around 9:00pm local time and after a quick taxi were quickly at the gate.

The crew on this short flight were friendly and courteous, and the service was typical for an intra-Asia flight. Korean Air has never been particularly renowned for its catering, and I found the food to be pretty average. Overall, our flight was fine by the standards of intra-Asia flights among the top Asian carriers — nothing bad but nothing exceptional.

The Upshot
Seoul Incheon airport’s new Terminal 2 is breathtakingly gorgeous. The space is airy, spacious, and serene. While Terminal 1 was regarded to be fairly mediocre, I’d argue that Seoul Incheon’s new T2 is one of the best terminals in the world.

The new Korean Air first class lounge, meanwhile, is certainly better than the old lounge but still not particularly noteworthy in any way. It offers a quiet and peaceful space for relaxing in between flights and decent food, but nothing else otherwise.

Finally, Korean Air intra-Asia first class is a solid product on par with that of other top-notch Asian carriers. Good service, decent catering, and a comfortable and spacious seat are about as much as you can ask for on a sub-3 hour flight.

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